But, does the developer get it ?

by Andrew Anderson

Like a lot of people, I am kind of sick about hearing about "Web 2.0". Between the hype and people forcing the definition towards whatever they want it to mean, like most buzzwords it is starting to mean nothing. I think the real question to ask about any software product is "does the software (or really the developers) get it?". It does not matter if the software is hosted on the web, uses tagging, or offers syndication; it's whether it uses the resources that are available to make cool and useful applications. The application could be on the web, on your desktop, in Dashboard or just about any other place. Really cool apps use everything available to do their tasks well and in the right context.

For instance:

  • Delicious Library gets it. Not only is it cool and easy to use, but it uses information in a totally unintended and smart way. It finds the information you need at Amazon, downloads it and keeps it on your machine. Why not make it a web app and keep the information on a remote server ? Because keeping the information remotely does not add any value. Is it "Web 2.0" ? Who cares, it uses data it retrieves online to do something cool.

  • Voodoo Pad gets it. They took a web application concept and applied it to a standalone application. Gus Mueller, the author, knew that lots of people would want a wiki, but didn't want, have or need the web server that most require. Is it "Web 2.0" ? Again, who cares? It turns a Wiki into a personal tool instead of a group tool, which is interesting and useful.

  • BackPack gets it (well, actually 37signals , the authors of BackPack really get it.) Setting up pages is easy, signing up new users is easy (unlike .Mac's new groups feature) and updating pages is easy. Is it "Web 2.0" ? Shockingly, again I say, who cares ? BackPack is not the first group management product, but they use technology to solve a simple problem in an easy to use way.

Don't get me wrong, none of these products is perfect, but the developers all get it. They know what makes their products special and how it helps their customers.

There are lots of applications that do not get it, and it isn't just a matter of desktop applications versus web applications. Photo sharing is a perfect example. Why have people flocked to Flickr ? It was not the first site to host photos, services like Snapfish, Shutterfly and KodakEasyShare Gallery have been doing that for years. Those other services just don't get it . They make people create accounts to view photos, something that often takes more time than looking at the photos in the first place. They make your computer act like a physical photo album, which is neither hard nor interesting. Flickr isn't better because it is "Web 2.0", it is better because it offers lots of features, is easier to use and doesn't put arbitrary constraints on users. Sure a lot of Flickr's novel and most hyped features (like tagging) are "Web 2.0" buzzwords, but that isn't what makes it better. The developers at Flickr get it, they know that they can offer a lot more than the simple photo album's that others offer, so they do. If Flickr had no tagging at all, it would still be a huge improvement over Snapfish, even though you can't purchase hard copies of photos at Flickr.

Developers need to write software that gets it. It doesn't matter if it's called "Web 2.0", "Web 999.0" or anything else that makes a nice sound bite (and i fully understand that "get it" could easily be construed as a sound bite.) If you want people to use it and love it, the software needs to do something special.

What other software gets it or doesn't get it ?


2005-10-26 09:01:31
Users Don't Care About the Technology Used
Great post, and I agree! Most users don't care about the technology used to make the application, they just care about how well it works. Does BackPack and Google Maps use AJAX? Most likely. Are they considered Web 2.0? Probably. But, as a user, I don't care what's happening on the inside (unless I'm trying to use the technology for my own web app), all I care is that it works, and works well.

On the desktop side I'm a little more picky. I prefer Cocoa apps over Java apps. Why? In my experience, the Cocoa apps generally work better than Java apps, but it is possible to have a horrible Cocoa app and a great Java app. In short, the technology used does not make a great app, it is up to the developer.

2005-10-26 13:08:42
getting it
I'm curious which web browsers and mail clients you think "get it" on OS X, if any.

Personally, in the spirit of your article, Firefox's popularity certainly isn't synonymous with "getting it". I'd like to change the "Get Firefox" tagline to "Firefox doesn't get it".

2005-10-26 15:18:58
getting it
I have to say, I haven't run into the mail client that I think "get it" on any platform OS X included. I use Apple Mail, mostly because I have for years. It's nothing special and not perfect, but it works.

As for browsers, I use Safari and FireFox. I think both are good, but they are definately missing things. I think at some level they both "get it", it's just that the projects are too big.

I think, part of the problem of getting it is that as a project gets larger, the probability of the project "getting it" decreases significantly. One of the things that I think make BackPack and 37Signal's other software so good is that they have this almost religious belief in simple software made by small teams.

Part of it gets down to influencers, ie/ If your team is 3-5 guys and 1 person "gets it", then he can teach, cajole or harass the rest of the team into getting it. If your team has 30-50 guys, even 5 guys who get it would be facing an uphill battle convincing the rest of the team.